“Ahlan wa Sahlan” Says Egypt’s Welcome Sign

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Alexander+Roberts’ Alexander the Great.
Alexander+Roberts’ Alexander the Great.

In culture, beauty and hospitality, Egypt has historically been a destination fit for pharaohs. But millenniums later—2015 to be precise—is it fit for tourists? Well, there seem to be a lot of people in the tourism industry who think so, particularly the U.S. tour operators who are back at the job designing itineraries to meet the increasing demand for travel to a country on everyone’s bucket list.

And no one could be more pleased with the new attention and endorsement that Egypt is receiving than Gawaher Ali Youssef, consul-director of the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA), New York & Montreal. She reports that “this year, the ETA is targeting the same visitor figures as 2010—our bonanza year, which welcomed 361,523 U.S. tourists. And, actually, in 2014, our total number of visitors was 9.9 million—up 4.3 percent.” Relatively new to her New York-based position, Ali Youssef has already taken part in various travel shows—Recommend met her first in Boca Raton, Florida, at the USTOA conference and again at the ETA booth at The New York Times Travel Show. “We will be joining our travel industry partners at trade show promotions and reaching out to consumers through printed and digital ads in prestigious newspapers and media, in addition to Internet and social media.”

As travelers are heading back to Egypt, it will certainly be tour operators who will pave the way. Under the best of political circumstances, going it alone in the Cairo traffic or sorting out the temples of Luxor and Karnak can be overwhelming. After three years of political turmoil, it’s an appropriate time for clients to enjoy the safety and security of traveling with experienced travel companies well connected to experienced tour directors
on location.

“Simply speaking,” says Bob Drumm, president, Alexander+Roberts, “we have been taking clients to Egypt for years, although formerly under the General Tours banner. We pulled out in 2012 during a time of great turmoil, when any tourist in the country was experiencing Egypt up-close and practically in private. Now in 2015, we’re not only happy to be back, but pleased that since the very first of the year, we have had bookings almost every day.” Drumm notes that once a client is reassured about safety in Egypt, “we really don’t have to sell it, for with its unique and fascinating inheritance—treasures from

Pharaonic, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Ottoman, French and British eras—as well as the experience of the Nile, clients know they want to go. And Egypt also steps up with excellent facilities and top-notch guides.”

Alexander+Roberts’ Small Group Discovery trip is a 9-day Visions of Egypt by Small Ship that starts in Cairo at the fabled Oberoi Mena House in the shadow of the Great Pyramid. Guests then fly to Luxor to board the boutique-style Alexander the Great, with 30 outside suites (plus pool and good food), that sails between Luxor and Aswan. From Aswan, guests fly to Abu Simbel for a day tour, then return by air to Cairo for two nights at the Kempinski Nile Hotel and extensive Cairo sightseeing. Tour cost starts at $3,949 pp dbl.

Meanwhile, Wilderness Travel adds a good dose of Indiana Jones-type adventure to its 9-day In the Wake of Cleopatra, cruising the Nile on a 5-night cruise aboard the 100-ft., 6-cabin dahabiya, Lazuli III. This traditional Nile sailboat, built at the end of the 19th century and completely refitted in 2003, is able to navigate the maze of canals along the river’s banks, permitting passengers to visit lesser-known sites and river villages.

“Although we have only one scheduled departure [on the ‘Cleopatra’ program] this year, Egypt is definitely coming back, momentum is building, as is demand, and next year we will be increasing our commitment with more departures,” reports Barbara Banks, director of marketing and new trip development at Wilderness Travel. She feels that this “Cleopatra” path to visiting Egypt is just right for today’s traveler in search of authentic experiences, and “it’s also ideal for a private group of families and friends who want to join together in what is really the most outrageous field trip ever.”

The itinerary also includes a visit to Abu Simbel, three nights in five-star hotels: the Fairmont Towers Heliopolis in Cairo; Sonesta St. George in Luxor; and Mena House in Giza. Accompanied by a Wilderness Travel trip leader and local guides, the trip departure is Oct. 16; cost (depending on the number of members) starts at $4,595 pp dbl.

Insight Vacations' guests at the Luxor Temple.
Insight Vacations’ guests at the Luxor Temple.

Insight Vacations’ Perspective
Insight Vacations, no stranger to Egypt after more than 30 years in the country, re-launched its Egyptian program this year with four itineraries, the first of which—the 10-day Wonders of Egypt—departed on Jan. 8, hosted by Insight’s Global CEO and president John Boulding. Recommend stepped up with a few questions for this just-back traveler:

Does Egypt look/feel different than the last time you were there?
Boulding: The sights, of course, are timeless and the Egyptian people more welcoming than ever. You do see scores of cruisers moored seven deep and looking rather forlorn at the docks in Luxor; however, that’s an inevitable result of the drop in tourism, and ships will be quickly restored as business comes back.

Is there increased security around the country and tourist sites?
Boulding: There has always been good policing of the main sites and that remains, but there is no sense at all of a destination hunkered down. One has complete freedom of movement and easy access to both the sites and the people.

Have the tourist sites been maintained?
Boulding: Yes and surprisingly well. The Egyptians have used the time to keep everything up to scratch, and I’m impressed with the work they are doing. Additionally, there are several new discoveries that are under excavation and study, as well as restoration and upgrades of such heritage sites as the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel—staying here is one of the main reasons people come to Aswan, including the illustrious likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie and King Farouk.

What is your own favorite site or experience in Egypt?
Boulding: The temples of Karnak and Luxor for their scale.  The experience of meeting the local people in Luxor and learning about their lives; they have such a positive outlook.

For those who didn’t quite make it on the January departure, Insight Vacations’ 10-day Wonders of Egypt journey, with departures starting in April, begins in Cairo, with guests staying at the Cairo Marriott Hotel and a full day spent at the Pyramids in Giza and Sakkara. Guests fly to Luxor to begin a 4-day cruise to Aswan, the place to enjoy tea at the fabled Old Cataract Hotel. Then it’s a return to Cairo for a full day of sightseeing in the city, including the bazaars and the Egyptian Museum. Tour costs start at $2,435 pp dbl.

Archived related articles (available on recommend.com/magazine/issue-archive): Egypt Update (January 2014)

contact information
Alexander+Roberts: alexanderroberts.com or alexanderroberts.com/Rewards/Login.aspx
Egyptian Tourism Authority: egypt.travel
Insight Vacations: insightvacations.com or insightvacations.com/us/content/agent-area
Wilderness Travel: wildernesstravel.com or wildernesstravel.com/about/travel-agents